Archive for May, 2012

Raphael's Sistine Madonna in its new frameThe Sistine Madonna, the iconic Madonna with saints and cherubs that is the last painting Raphael finished with his own hands before his premature death, turns 500 years old this year. The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) in Dresden, proud owner of the masterpiece, is putting on a major new exhibition to celebrate the quincentennial. In honor of the special occasion, the painting has been reframed in what is basically a gilded temple, complete with modified Corinthian columns and a huge cornice.

In 1512, Raphael was commissioned by Pope Julius II to create an altarpiece of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child for the newly-built Benedictine Monastery of San Sisto in Piacenza. The pontiff required that the painting include Saint Sixtus, in tribute to his uncle Pope Sixtus IV, and Saint Barbara, one of Fourteen Holy Helpers whose powers of intercession are deemed particularly keen. Raphael finished the painting around 1513 or 1514. He died in 1520, and although he designed and worked on other Madonnas and paintings in the six or seven intervening years, his assistants did much of the work.

The painting remained enshrined over the altar in the little-known monastery until 1754 when Augustus III, absentee King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, purchased it from the Benedictines for 110,000-120,000 francs. Augustus III, like his father and grandfather before him, was an avid art collector. They created a world-class collection of Old Master paintings with the Sistine Madonna as the jewel in the crown. Legend has it that Augustus moved his throne so the painting could have the best light in the room, but the entire collection had been moved from Dresden Castle to the more spacious Stallgebäude (the Electors’ Stable Building) next door in 1747; thus, either Augustus wanted some alone time in the throne room with the Raphael for a while, or the story is apocryphal.

Raphael's Sistine MadonnaThe only Raphael in Germany, the Sistine Madonna was an immediate sensation. Even though Protestant Saxony was uneasy about its very recent Papist extraction and general Catholic imagery, the painting’s embrace of classicism (the Madonna could just as easily be a Juno and the composition follows the ancient principle of the sectio aurea or golden ratio) and its self-aware presentation as a piece of art (see the green curtains in the upper corners and the cherubs down below who rest against a balustrade much like the altar which the altarpiece was created to adorn) made it a favorite with budding Romantics and classicists alike. Goethe wrote a song about it; Wagner made special trips to Dresden just to see it; Alfred Rethel said, “I would not swap for a kingdom the delight I have had from standing before this picture,” and that was before he went insane.

As war loomed in 1938, the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister closed up shop and removed its collection to safety in underground storage in Switzerland. Thus the Raphael survived the firebombing of Dresden that so severely damaged the gallery it wasn’t fully reconstructed until 1960. It also survived the Soviet army, which according to its own press had “saved” the precious painting from a flooded out cave. In fact the storage area was climate-controlled and entirely functional; the Soviets simply felt entitled to claim any and all of the enemy’s treasures as payment for all of their own cultural patrimony looted by the Nazis (see this excellent article for more on the subject).

In 1955, two years after the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union decide to return the Sistine Madonna to Germany as a gesture of goodwill to strengthen relations between the countries. The jewel in the crown went back on display in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister.

The cherubs, kitsch deities in their own rightThe 500th anniversary exhibit opened Saturday, May 26 and continues through August 26. It covers the painting’s checkered history in four sections: Raphael in Rome — an examination of the context in which Raphael painted the piece; Augustus III’s acquisition and the move from Piacenza to Dresden; the influence of the Sistine Madonna on art, literature, music and design; and lastly, a romp through the rich separate life of the two little cherubs at the bottom who were first copied on their own in 1800 and have been on everything from posters to coasters to t-shirts ever since.

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Tombeau en fouilles-1 Pachacamac

A team of archaeologists from the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) has discovered a spectacular tomb containing more than eighty individuals of different ages. This discovery – provisionally dated to around 1000 years ago – was made at the site of Pachacamac, which is currently under review for UNESCO World Heritage status.

Pachacamac, situated on the Pacific coast about thirty kilometres from Lima, is one of the largest Prehispanic sites in South America. Professor Peter Eeckhout – under the auspices of the ULB – has been carrying out fieldwork at the site for the past 20 years. The 2012 season resulted in some particularly remarkable discoveries.

The Ychsma Project team undertook to record and excavate a series of Inca storage facilities (15th-16th c. AD), as well as a more ancient cemetery which had been detected during exploratory work in 2004.

Pachacamac In the Lurin valley, 31 km south of Lima, Peru : Wiki Commons

It was here – directly in front of the Temple of Pachacamac – that the most important discovery was made. A scatter of later period burials was found to conceal an enormous burial chamber 20 metres long ; miraculously, it had survived the pillaging of the colonial period – which was particularly intensive on this site – and was completely intact.

The tomb is oval in outline, excavated into the earth and covered with a roof of reeds supported by carved and shaped tree trunks. A dozen newborn babies and infants were distributed around the perimeter, their heads oriented towards the tomb. The main chamber was seperated into two sections, separated by a wall of mud bricks which served as a base for yet more burials.

Inside the chambers, the archaeologists uncovered the remains of more than 70 skeletons and mummies (many of which still retained their wrappings), all in the characteristic fœtal position. The burials represented both sexes and all ages, and were often accompanied by offrenda including ceramic vessels, animals (dogs, guinea pigs), copper and gold alloy artefacts, masks (or ‘false heads’) in painted wood, calabashes, etc. These items are currently under restoration and analysis. Babies and very young infants were particularly common.

Mamacona / The house of the Sun Virgins (reconstructed) : Wiki Commons

The team’s group of physical anthropologists, under the direction of Dr Lawrence Owens (University of London), have posited the possibility of a genetic relationship between many of the individuals, on the basis of certain morphological traits recorded in the skeletons. Certain of the individuals suffered mortal injuries, physical trauma or serious illness.

Previous work by the Ychsma Project has revealed the extensive presence of disease in the Pachacamac skeletal population, leading to the suggestion that the affected individuals had, as testified by Inca sources, travelled to the site in search of a cure: a form of Prehispanic Lourdes.

Professor Eeckhout and his colleagues are currently carrying out laboratory analyses aimed at answering numerous questions that have arisen concerning this discovery, and how to contextualise it within the wider context of the site and the period(s) in question. Were the infants sacrificed ? Were the bodies all interred at the same time as a form of communal burial, or was the chamber reused over longer periods of time like some sort of crypt? Did the individuals come from Pachacamac or further afield? Did they belong to the same family or larger kinship group ? What was their cause of death…?

The artefacts found in the tomb date it stylistically to around 1000 AD, although this is yet to be confirmed radiometrically. The importance of the site cannot be overstated: Pachacamac is a candidate for inclusion on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Ychsma Project benefits from the support of the ULB’s Centre for Archaeological and Heritage Research, the ULB Foundation, and from the National Fund for Scientific Research.

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Researchers from Tel Aviv University have recently discovered a collection of gold and silver jewelry, dated from around 1100 B.C., hidden in a vessel at the archaeological site of Tel Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel. One piece — a gold earring decorated with molded ibexes, or wild goats — is “without parallel,” they believe. Read story

The Conversion of Cornelius, seen against the Political and Social Background of the Roman Empire

Lee, Min

Degree of Master of Philosophy, University of Birmingham (2011)


The basic framework of Roman policy towards the Jews and Judaism, initiated at the time of Julius Caesar, until before the time of Claudius, was quite permissive, allowing the Jews considerable religious freedom and privileges. There were of course occasional different applications of the policy depending on the Emperors or procurators in the regions. Nonetheless, Judaism in the first half of the first century to some degree infiltrated into the Roman Empire and the range of the social status of the constituents was wide, from low class to high. There were considerable numbers of gentile adherents to Judaism and also of proselytes: among them were Roman adherents and proselytes and some of them were even members of the royal house. The pragmatic policy of Rome towards the Jews and their religion, the wide range of Jewish infiltration into various classes of people, and in particular the numerous cases of conversion among the Romans do not exclude the possibility of the conversion of a Roman officer, despatched to the province in approximately AD 39, to a sect of the Jewish religion.

Click here to read this article from the University of Birmingham

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The Year One. Of all the great years in history, it is the oddest because no one alive at the time, or for centuries thereafter, had any idea that this was the Year One at all. If they ever used such a date, they would have meant by it the year in which the world was created, not what we mean by A.D. 1. Back then, no system was official: every scholar and historian was free to choose which ever he preferred, singly or in combination, from the founding of Romulus to the Olympic games.

Read More: — Tellus panel, from the south-east corner of the Ara Pacis Augustae, Rome, marble, 5’3″ h, Augustan period, 13-9 B.C. (Lungotevere in August, Rome)—

It was not surprising that it took the Christians a long time to think up and introduce a system of their own. The honor finally went to eastern Greek speaking monk , Dionysius Exiguus, who lived in Rome in the first half of the sixth century. He calculated that Christ was born in 754 A.U.C. called that “the first year of our lord” and counted everything that preceded it as “before Christ.” His calculation was slightly inaccurate, either  4B.C or 6 A.D. depending on Matthew or Luke making A.D. 1 no t possible. But Dionysus’s scheme spread gradually, and it soon achieved near universality. The Year One, whatever it was really, became a great year, for many the greatest year in all of history.

Read More: —The Romans added the tenth sibyl to the classical ones of Greece, the Tiburtine Sibyl, who lived in the ancient Etruscan town of Tibur, now Tivoli. Augustus met with her to ask if he should be worshipped as a god, and this meeting was a favorite motif of Christian artists later. She prophesied that a king named Constans would arise and vanquish the foes of Christianity. The Tiburtine Sybil by the Master of the Tiburtine Sibyl, circa 1480. This depicts her meeting with the Emperor Augustus.—

We don’t know much about those times, except for Josephus, and his Jewish War, a turncoat who wrote a pro-Roman eyewtiness account of the Roman capture of rebel Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Josephus was a Pharisee, sort of the equivalent of today’s secular ruling class in Israel, and the villains among his own people were the Zealots, who stirred up and led the revolt against Rome. Nothing much has changed in almost two millenia. His favorite word for the rebels is “bandits” , so that bandits, Zealots, and the lower classes are virtually synonymous in his books, which on the whole, translation issues aside, are a bit long winded and boring. Obvious shilling for the paymaster.

—Inspired by this promise of eternal life, and reward for fighting against the Romans, the Pharisees led the people into one of the great travesties that ever affected the Jewish people. Not only were we killed in the hundreds of thousands, but thousands of others were sold into the slave markets, dispersed across the face of the Empire until Israel was practically depleted of its Jewish population. Everything that befell us as a people following the dispersion was a result of this Pharisaic delusion of the common people. … Rather than confess to their own responsibility in causing the tragic events that plagued the Jewish people for two thousand years following the Roman Jewish War, the rabbis cast all the blame upon the then powerless Sadducees.—Read More:

The mighty Romans needed four years to quell the Jewish uprising; precisely because social revolt, the desire for independence, and sectarian religious conflict were closely intertwined. Then as now, this was an age of lavish living among relatively few men at one end of the scale, and extreme poverty among the many at the other end.

The Gargantuan banquet given by the freedman Trimalchio in the Satyricon of Petronius is funny in the way it exaggerates; the account caricatures, but it does not invent out of whole cloth. The wealth of Herod the Great was a subject for never-ending comment by Josephus. But the linen weavers of Tarsus, skilled free craftsmen whose products were sought after throughout the Empire, could never afford the small fees charged for the acquisition of local citizenship in their own city.

Outside Judea, serious revolt was rare and the Romans in Year One were able to contemplate their position with much satisfaction. Not only were they rulers of what they chose to believe was the civilized world, but they had emerged successfully from a long,desperately violent, and dangerous period of civil war, culminating in a replacing of the old system by a monarchy with a republican facade under Augustus in 27 B.C. By the Year One, Augustus was firmly in control of an empire which he had considerably enlarged. E.M. Forster termed Augustus ” one of the most odious of the world’s successful men,” and what we know of their behavior seemed rotten enough, even allowing for differences between ancient and modern values.

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Posted: May 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


MORE THAN ONE correspondent has expressed a keen desire to see the historical essays published here of late in the form of a book. It is flattering to see so much interest, and it is also very encouraging, since, as Dr. Boli has already mentioned, the book is in preparation, and will be published later this year under the title Dr. Boli’s Complete and Utter History of the World.

Although the book is not ready yet, there can be no harm in releasing this preliminary table of contents, which will serve to keep hope alive in the breasts of those readers whose patience is sorely tried by waiting a few months for the release of the volume they anticipate with such fervor.

A few more chapters from the book will be published here, so that, from the part, readers will be able to form a fair judgment of the whole.

Dr. Boli’s Complete and Utter History of the World.

1. From the Creation of the Universe to the Dawn of Civilization

2. The Definition and Character of Civilization

3. The Ancient Egyptians, Furnishing and Decorating the Afterlife Since 3150 B.C.

4. The Less Marketable Ancient Civilizations

5. The Israelites Discover Monotheism and Spend Most of the Rest of Their History Trying to Back Out of It

6. The Ancient Greeks Live the Examined Life

7. The Ancient Greeks Invent History

8. Alexander Runs Out of Worlds to Conquer

9. While Rome Conquers the World, Greece Conquers Rome

10. Christianity Ruins Everything

11. The Roman Empire Declines and Falls for 1500 Years Straight

12. Barbarians Everywhere

13. Nothing Happens in the Dark Ages

14. Charlemagne Turns On the Lights

15. The Middle Ages Mistakenly Think Themselves Modern

16. France Invades England; or, England Invades France

17. Europe Pushes the Reset Button

18. The Reformation Eliminates Evil from the World

19. Europeans Discover America; Americans Discover Europeans

20. It Turns Out That the Reformation Left Some Unfinished Business

21. Europe Discovers That the Rest of the World Is Just Sitting There

22. France, England, Spain, Holland, Sweden, Russia, Denmark, and Liechtenstein in North America

23. The French and Indian War Is a Pretty Big Deal

24. Liberty and/or Death

25. So the French Think They Can Have a Revolution, Too

26. Napoleon, the Most Successful Failure in History

27. Americans Throw Their Weight Around

28. Europe Has a Bunch of Revolutions and Stuff

29. Americans Debate the Slavery Question Rather Noisily

30. The North Prospers; the South Gets Reconstructed

31. Suddenly, There’s This Thing Called “Germany”

32. It Looks as Though Africa Might Be Profitable After All

33. Labor Malcontents with Their Unreasonable Demands Ruin Things for the Rest of Us

34. The First World War Is Impossible to Explain

35. The October Revolution Is Delayed Till November

36. The Great Depression Breeds a Snobbishly Thrifty Generation

37. The Second World War Is a Lot Easier to Explain Than the First

38. The Cold War Is Good for Business

39. History Comes to an End

40. Actually, Ignore the Title of the Previous Chapter

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on May 24, 2012 at 2:56 pm  Comments (7)  

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Salukis appear genetically different because they were geographically isolated and were not part of the 19th century Victorian-initiated Kennel Clubs that blended lineages to create most of the breeds we keep as pets today. : Wiki Commons

Cross-breeding of dogs over thousands of years has made it extremely difficult to trace the ancient genetic roots of today’s pets, according to a new study led by Durham University.

An international team of scientists analysed data of the genetic make-up of modern-day dogs, alongside an assessment of the global archaeological record of dog remains, and found that modern breeds genetically have little in common with their ancient ancestors.

Dogs were the first domesticated animals and the researchers say their findings will ultimately lead to greater understanding of dogs’ origins and the development of early human civilisation.

Dr. Greger Larson of the Department of Archaeology at Durham University

Although many modern breeds look like those depicted in ancient texts or in Egyptian pyramids, cross-breeding across thousands of years has meant that it is not accurate to label any modern breeds as “ancient”, the researchers said.

Breeds such as the Akita, Afghan Hound and Chinese Shar-Pei, which have been classed as “ancient”, are no closer to the first domestic dogs than other breeds due to the effects of lots of cross-breeding, the study found.

Other effects on the genetic diversity of domestic dogs include patterns of human movement and the impact on dog population sizes caused by major events, such as the two World Wars, the researchers added.

The findings are published today (Monday May 21) in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS). The Durham-led research team was made up of scientists from a number of universities including Uppsala University, Sweden, and the Broad Institute, in the USA.

In total the researchers analysed genetic data from 1,375 dogs representing 35 breeds. They also looked at data showing genetic samples of wolves, with recent genetic studies suggesting that dogs are exclusively descended from the grey wolf.

Lead author Dr Greger Larson, an evolutionary biologist in Durham University’s Department of Archaeology, said the study demonstrated that there is still a lot we do not know about the early history of dog domestication including where, when, and how many times it took place.

Dr Larson added: “We really love our dogs and they have accompanied us across every continent.

“Ironically, the ubiquity of dogs combined with their deep history has obscured their origins and made it difficult for us to know how dogs became man’s best friend.

“All dogs have undergone significant amounts of cross-breeding to the point that we have not yet been able to trace all the way back to their very first ancestors.”

Several breeds, including Basenjis, Salukis and Dingoes, possess a differing genetic signature, which previous studies have claimed to be evidence for their ancient heritage, the research found.

However the study said that the unique genetic signatures in these dogs was not present because of a direct heritage with ancient dogs. Instead these animals appeared genetically different because they were geographically isolated and were not part of the 19th Century Victorian-initiated Kennel Clubs that blended lineages to create most of the breeds we keep as pets today.

The study also suggested that within the 15,000 year history of dog domestication, keeping dogs as pets only began 2,000 years ago and that until very recently, the vast majority of dogs were used to do specific jobs.

Dr Larson said: “Both the appearance and behaviour of modern breeds would be deeply strange to our ancestors who lived just a few hundred years ago.

“And so far, anyway, studying modern breeds hasn’t yet allowed us to understand how, where and when dogs and humans first started this wonderful relationship.”

The researchers added that DNA sequencing technology is faster and cheaper than ever and could soon lead to further insights into the domestication and subsequent evolution of dogs.

HeritageDaily : Archaeology News : Archaeology Press Releases

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